Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

This is absolutely true: We go to Clingman’s Dome every year while we volunteer in Big Creek and we have had bad weather (poor visibility or pouring rain) every time. Today, we hit the jackpot.

The weather has turned just a bit cooler, in the 70s F today.  There was not a cloud in the sky-blue sky. While we were taking our romantic walk to the dumpster with our trash bag, I suggested that we drive to Clingman’s Dome.  The highest mountain in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The highest mountain in the eastern United States even. Great idea, the weather was perfect.

I called Ranger Heath and we met him at the park’s Sugarlands visitor center to deliver his Big Creek coffee mug.  I forgot to take a picture of him. He was not in uniform and I didn’t even recognize him until he was right in front of me.

We kept watching the sky for the monsoon rain clouds or a bank of fog to come rolling in.  None did. When we came out of the forest near the top of the mountain, it was not as clear as the low lands.  It was still gorgeous, though.  This was the view from our parking spot.

We took our long-sleeve shirts with us as it was 63 degrees up there.

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Here we are heading to the one-half-mile trail that leads to the observation tower.

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I noticed something bright red on some of the trees and went to investigate.

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They were big clusters of small red berries.  This calls for an internet search. The park website popped up with the answer:

American mountain ash (Sorbus americana) is a small tree that can be found at elevations above 5,000 feet in the park. It is especially abundant in areas such as Chinaman’s Dome and on Mount Le Conte. In September, the berries ripen to a vivid, eye-catching red. Bears and birds are fond of the fruit.

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Mountain Ash Berries

We headed up the trail.  It is paved all the way, which is a good idea with all those millions of feet tramping up there every year.

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This is the visitor center/bookstore/gift shop with a row of  Mountain Ash trees on the lawn.

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The trail is only about half a mile but, it is deceptively steep with a 330-foot gain in elevation. There are benches and rocks along the way where people were stopping to rest.  Andy and I were going so slowly that we were resting between steps.  It is prudent to pace yourself.

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I got a closer look at the Mountain Ash berries.

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There are mountain vistas all along the trail.

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It is a relief to come around the bend and see the observation tower.

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Then it was time to walk up the long spiral ramp to the top.

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There was a crowd up there.

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It was 360 degrees of mountain views. The dead trees are Fraser Firs.  The Balsam Wooly Adelgid was accidentally introduced here from Europe in the 1960s and has killed most of the mature firs in the park. I think that dark mountain in the background is Mount Le Conte, the second tallest mountain in the park, by a few feet.

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I could show you lots more mountain views from the observation tower but, honestly, they all look the same in the pictures. Here is a look down at the plaza. We saw a group of park rangers standing there. We recognized one as the Chief Ranger for the park.

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After admiring the view all around, for the first time ever, we headed back down the ramp.

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The views were a lot better walking back down the trail.  I wasn’t watching my feet as much.

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Andy did very well until near the end when his knees began to hurt. I could tell from his gait that his balance was suffering as a result.

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And, that was our walk to Clingman’s Dome.

 

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